Badger GP Formula 1 isn't boring. 2018-04-26T13:08:36Z Badger GP Nicky Haldenby <![CDATA[Six reasons to watch the 2018 Azerbaijan Grand Prix]]> 2018-04-26T13:08:36Z 2018-04-25T22:00:49Z It’s time for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, and if it’s anything like last year’s race in Baku then we’re in for a treat!

Will Mercedes bounce back? Are Red Bull really on the pace of the top two teams? Can Max Verstappen up his game? And why is Sebastian Vettel’s steering wheel causing such a fuss? Here are your reasons to watch all the action this weekend!

A win for Mercedes?

Mercedes may be leading the championship, but they haven’t won a race yet this season. Will Baku – a circuit which has traditionally suited their superior-powered car – break their duck for 2018?

Mercedes are the only team to have taken pole at the Baku City Circuit, and won the inaugural race here in 2016 with Nico Rosberg taking his fifth victory of the season. Lewis Hamilton is keen to get his first F1 win since last October, as he admits he can’t allow the points gap to championship leader Sebastian Vettel to rise much further.

Image: Octane Photography

Look out for Valtteri Bottas, too. He’s been performing well in the opening stages of the season, and the Azerbaijan track is one which clearly suits him. Last year, contact on the first lap dropped him a lap down on the leaders, but he fought back valiantly to take second place from Lance Stroll on the line. Will Mercedes eke out a larger advantage over Ferrari in the title battle this weekend?

Are Red Bull really in the hunt?

Daniel Ricciardo took an unexpected victory in China, when everything came to Red Bull. A similar thing happened at Baku last season, where Ricciardo won from tenth on the grid, on a day where everything went Red Bull’s way. While questions will surely be posed to the Australian about his contract for 2019 over the weekend, he’ll be hoping that he can do the talking on the track once again and solidify his place as a 2018 title contender.

Image: Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool

It seems the only thing holding him back is the car’s true pace, which has shown flashes of being on par with Ferrari and Mercedes in practice sessions so far this year, yet always a little behind when it comes to Qualifying. This weekend could be crucial in showing the speed of the RB14, on a track with long straights which wouldn’t traditionally suit the car.

Max under pressure

Max Verstappen is yet to have a trouble-free weekend this season. His costly spin in Australia was followed by a crash in Qualifying in Bahrain and a tangle with Lewis Hamilton in the Grand Prix. Then, in China, his collision with the championship leader arguably cost him a shot at victory. His team-mate is delivering, now Verstappen needs to up his game.

Image: Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool

There’s plenty of ongoing debate on whether the Dutchman needs to change his driving style. Now, Verstappen returns to a hunting ground which hasn’t been particularly good to him in the past two years. He finished eighth in 2016, before retiring from the Grand Prix with engine woes last season. Such is his form, he’s behind both Nico Hulkenberg and Fernando Alonso in the Drivers’ Championship. Max is in desperate need of a good weekend. Will he, and his car, deliver?

A load of hot air

One of the main talking points this weekend is bound to be an amendment to the rules on exhaust blowing. The area became an issue in pre-season testing when some were unhappy with Renault’s blown rear wing. Now Ferrari have got in on the act too, and the FIA have announced they are taking steps against teams using engine modes designed to increase exhaust flow during corners. There’s likely to be plenty of fallout and discussion about the clampdown this weekend – but will it have any effect on the racing, or will it all just be a load of hot air?

Seb’s extra paddle

Is it a blue flag activator? Is it controlling Kimi’s race strategies?

Much has been made this week of an extra paddle on Sebastian Vettel’s steering wheel. Some claim that the paddle is linked to the clampdown on exhaust blowing.

Kimi Raikkonen doesn’t have the paddle in the other Ferrari, so there’s plenty of intrigue over what exactly it is for. Will it still be there, and will we find out what it does this weekend?

Expect the unexpected!

Last season’s race in Baku saw it all; a hectic first lap, a raging Sebastian Vettel clattering into the side of Lewis Hamilton, the two Force India team-mates colliding, a red flag due to debris, Ricciardo overtaking three cars in one corner, Hamilton’s headrest coming loose, a ten second penalty for Vettel, Valtteri Bottas taking second on the line, Lance Stroll taking his maiden podium and Daniel Ricciardo taking an unexpected victory. And all of that is before mentioning Kimi Raikkonen’s infamous steering wheel incident.

We won’t hype it up too much though, let’s not forget the snoozefest which was the 2016 European Grand Prix…

The 2018 Azerbaijan Grand Prix gets underway at 1:10pm BST on Sunday. In the UK, coverage is live on both Channel 4 and Sky Sports F1.

Nicky Haldenby <![CDATA[Is the 2018 F1 season shaping up to be a classic?]]> 2018-04-25T11:29:05Z 2018-04-24T20:23:43Z ‘F1 is broken’ proclaimed a handful of fans after a somewhat dull Australian Grand Prix. Fast forward another two races and Formula One has not looked this good in quite some time. We have six cars able to fight for victories, we have an incredibly close midfield pack and we have so many storylines that it’s difficult to know where to look.

The 2018 season of Formula One is shaping up to be a cracker. After three races, the title hunt is wide open and just as Sebastian Vettel looked to have an advantage, his lead was cut down to nine points after a topsy-turvy Chinese Grand Prix, which has left just seventeen points separating the top four in the Drivers’ Championship.

The year after a major regulation overhaul tends to give us close racing; you can take the 2010 season, arguably a modern classic, as an example of this. The Mercedes age of domination appears to have most certainly passed, and Ferrari now appears to be the team to beat. And yet despite not being dominant, and not winning a race so far in 2018, Mercedes still lead the way in the Constructors’ standings – albeit by a solitary point.

Is Ferrari the one to beat?

While Mercedes may be on the decline, Ferrari is looking better than they have in a long time and they have the statistics to prove it.

Sebastian Vettel took his first back-to-back pole positions for the Prancing Horse in Bahrain and China, while Kimi Raikkonen qualified just behind his teammate at both events to give the team their first back-to-back front row lockouts since 2006.

Furthermore, two successive wins at the start of the season marked Ferrari’s best opening to a year since Michael Schumacher’s final title-winning season in 2004. Sure, their first win of the season in Australia may have been due to a fortuitously timed Virtual Safety Car, but Bahrain utterly belonged to the scarlet car of Vettel, taking one of the finest victories in his illustrious career.

Raikkonen is driving at his strongest since his return to Ferrari in 2014 too, which is certainly helping the Scuderia in their quest for championship glory for the first time since 2008. China showed, though, how Raikkonen already seems to be playing a supporting role to the team’s number one driver.

What will be fascinating in the immediate future is whether Ferrari is really quicker than Mercedes as we head to the power-reliant Baku City Circuit.

In the longer term, over the course of the season, last year Ferrari showed how quickly things can fall apart in Formula One with a string of poor reliability and poor results in the Asian races.

Can Ferrari prevent themselves from imploding as the season moves forward and the pressure increases?

What’s happened to Mercedes?

Image: Octane Photography

As I’ve already pointed out, Mercedes haven’t won a race yet this year, although maybe not all is as that statement makes it appear. It looked like usual service was restored in Australia, Lewis Hamilton led the opening practice sessions, set a blinding lap in qualifying and took pole position by a hefty margin before leading much of the race. But for a badly timed Virtual Safety Car, Lewis would have taken the full 25 points on offer.

In Bahrain, Valtteri Bottas finished right behind Sebastian Vettel and in China, Bottas undercut Vettel following his pit stop, and probably would have won the race – once again, if not for a badly timed Safety Car period.

Hamilton hasn’t won a race since last October’s US Grand Prix. It’s one of the longest win-less periods in his Formula One career, and certainly the longest since his lull at the start of the 2016 season. His qualifying lap in Melbourne proved that he hasn’t lost it, but perhaps Hamilton’s issue is one of pressure. Not a presence of it, but a lack of it.

Unlike drivers who crack under pressure, the four-time champion thrives on it and he simply doesn’t have any on him, at least not yet. Will we see the now-expected Hamilton resurgence as his points deficit begins to creep up? Hamilton himself says he can’t let the gap to Vettel grow much more – a sign perhaps that he is about to start delivering.

On the other side of the Mercedes garage, Valtteri Bottas is under pressure with his future at the team as yet undecided.

His season may have got off to a shaky start with a qualifying crash and a disappointing eighth-place finish in Melbourne, but since then Bottas is out-qualifying and out-racing his team-mate. A little more daring on the final lap in Bahrain, and the Finnish driver could be just a few points behind Vettel in the championship.

Nevertheless, Bottas has emerged as an early-season contender for the title – but the question now is whether he can he keep it up, continue to out-race his team-mate and stay on top of his game, unlike last season.

Red Bull joins the fight

Image: Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool

While we have a dogfight between Ferrari and Mercedes, both need to start looking behind them. Red Bull have proven they have a car capable of winning this season. Very few would have predicted both Ferrari and Red Bull to win a race before Mercedes in 2018, yet that is how this year has transpired.

Daniel Ricciardo continues to prove himself to be hot property with his masterful overtakes and his well deserved Chinese Grand Prix win. Red Bull is now just one podium shy of their 150th rostrum appearance – a feat which only five other teams have managed.

The mystery of Max Verstappen is another unravelling story. A spate of rookie errors means that he hasn’t yet had a clean weekend in 2018 – a spin during the race in Australia, a crash in qualifying and a coming together with Hamilton in the race in Bahrain and, most costly, a collision with Sebastian Vettel in China. With over sixty Grands Prix of experience, the blame can no longer be placed on youth.

Nobody doubts that Verstappen has the potential to become one of the greats of the sport, but over-driving the car and making mistakes will certainly not help his reputation. It will be interesting to see how, and indeed if, the Dutchman bounces back from his early-season misdemeanours.

Why is 2018 so exciting?

What’s making this season so memorable already? We have Pirelli to thank for some of it.

Each tyre compound this year is one stage softer than its 2017 predecessor, meaning that a 2018 Soft tyre is akin to a 2017 Supersoft tyre. The difference between the compounds means we’re seeing more varied tyre choices and, more importantly, more varied strategic decisions; Red Bull’s switch to a two-stop strategy in China aided them to victory, while in Bahrain Sebastian Vettel stayed on a one-stop strategy as Valtteri Bottas behind him opted to do two stops, leading to a grandstand finish to the race.

Of course, Vettel’s strategy was forced in part due to the pit-stop disaster for Kimi Raikkonen, which left Ferrari mechanic Francesco Cigarini in hospital with a broken leg.

In all three of the race weekends so far this year we’ve seen pit-stop fiascos, whether it be Haas’ ultimately terminal issues in the opening round, Ferrari’s horror stop in Bahrain or Stoffel Vandoorne being sent out with a loose tyre during Free Practice for the Chinese Grand Prix. While pressure on the teams and pit-crew is immense during pit-stops and has led to some high excitement in the races, we need to ensure that the pit-stops remain safe for all involved.

Midfield successes and disappointments 

Image: Hass F1 Team Media

Haas and Renault are the midfield success stories so far in 2018. While Haas’ heartbreak in Australia, caused by two botched pit-stops, means their total points tally is 22 points less than it could have been. Nevertheless, Romain Grosjean and in particular Kevin Magnussen, are having a good run of form recently.

One of the most disappointing aspects of F1 2018 is that the gap between the top three teams hasn’t shortened and, if anything, it has grown. While there’s no doubting the significant steps in performance which the likes of Renault and Haas have made, on any normal race day, there’s still no real chance of them taking a podium finish.

Image: Octane Photography

Force India and Williams seemed like the only teams capable of taking podium finishes outside of the top three teams last season, but they’ve both taken major steps backwards so far this season. Maybe an inexperienced driver line-up is in part to blame for Williams’ tricky start to the season, while Force India’s lack of stability seems to be a real issue in getting their VJM11 into major points-paying positions.

Intriguingly the teams which have fallen backwards are Mercedes customers, while the teams which have moved forward are Ferrari-powered. Perhaps this is indicative of the increase in performance from the Ferrari engine, and Mercedes’ loss of advantage in the power stakes. Nonetheless, the teams struggling at the moment may gain from updates when the European season begins.

Image: McLaren Media

It’s difficult to gauge whether McLaren is a success story or a failure at the moment. Talk of them fighting for the title now that they’re equipped with Renault engines appears to be wide of the mark after the first trio of races, but their points tally at this stage is looking a lot healthier than it did after three rounds in any of their Honda-powered years. Sure, they’ve improved – but is ‘best of the rest’ the improvement which the team would have hoped for when signing on the dotted line with the French manufacturer?

Likewise at Toro Rosso, taking McLaren’s old partner’s engines has been a double-edged sword. On the one hand, Pierre Gasly provided a great result – Honda’s best since their return to F1 – with a fourth-place finish in Bahrain, but on the other hand, the power unit isn’t particularly fast, nor is it as reliable as it needs to be.

For Toro Rosso to be a works team is still a huge coup, nevertheless, and provides Red Bull with an insight to the Japanese manufacturer’s way of working, should they choose to switch engine supplier for 2019.

At Renault, one of the shocks of the year so far is that Carlos Sainz is being consistently out-performed by teammate Nico Hulkenberg. The German has beaten the Spaniard in all three qualifying sessions so far this year, while on Sundays Hulkenberg has scored seventeen more points than Sainz. Given Sainz’s close battles with Verstappen during their time at Toro Rosso, the result from the first three races is, as others have pointed out, making Hulkenberg look like a very decent driver indeed.

So much more to come…

His performances against Hulkenberg so far this season won’t be doing Sainz any favours in securing a Red Bull seat next year, should one become available.

If rumours are to be believed, there will be an opening there next season, as Daniel Ricciardo has reportedly already signed an agreement with Ferrari for 2019. Meanwhile, Spanish outlets have reported that McLaren is preparing to wave goodbye to Fernando Alonso and say hello to Lando Norris next season. The point here is that we’re three races into the season and talk is already starting about where the drivers will be for 2019. The Silly Season will be an extra juicy sub-plot to what is already shaping up to be a season full of intrigue.

Furthermore, it looks like the second half of the championship will be spiced up by the new limit of three power units per season.

Image: Octane Photography

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it seems the Toro Rosso pairing will be first to fall foul of this rule, with Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley both having used two turbochargers and MGU-Hs so far this year.

At the front of the grid, Sebastian Vettel and Valtteri Bottas have both used their full allocation of two Control Electronics, while Bottas has also used two Energy Stores. With top-tier cars already getting through engine elements after just three Grands Prix, grid penalties may well play a part in the championship race after the summer break.

More immediately, Formula One lands in Baku, Azerbaijan for round four – a race which proved to be the most talked about event in 2017.

After that, it’s a run of races which are always fun – Spain, Monaco and Canada. In Spain, the traditional start of the European season, the teams typically bring their first major updates and upgrades. It always seems that this is around the time we get a clearer picture of who the real title contenders are.

It’s still just a little too early to know if anyone other than Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton will be genuine title contenders this season. There’s still a glimmer of opportunity that we could see a repeat of 2010, with five drivers in the hunt until the closing stages; Vettel and Hamilton, Bottas if he can maintain his momentum, and Ricciardo if the Red Bull car is truly competitive. Seventeen points separate those four at the moment.

If the gap is still that small after twenty rounds, no doubt this season will go down as one of the greats – and that’s without Raikkonen and Verstappen joining the fight.

The next run of races will give us a clearer picture of where the trophies are heading for 2018 but right now it feels like anything could still happen.

We’re just one-seventh of the way through the season and this year is already shaping up to be a modern-day classic… remember when people thought the halo was going to ruin F1?

BGP <![CDATA[Weekend debate: Does Max Verstappen need to calm down?]]> 2018-04-21T18:01:35Z 2018-04-21T09:49:37Z

The Scrutineering Bay is Badger’s way of taking a hot Grand Prix racing topic and getting people from the Sett involved to put their opinions across.

From predicting races, arguing stewards decisions to just deciding who was/is/will be the best, anything is fair game!

Max Verstappen had a painful ‘life lesson’ in Shanghai, taking out the world championship leader Sebastian Vettel and messing up his chance of a win by running wide when trying to pass Lewis Hamilton in a highly risky place on the track.

The F1 world loves Verstappen’s bold moves and virtuoso drives when they come off, and Red Bull have broken the bank to sign him on that basis. But Shanghai illustrated that there is a fine line between hero and zero when you walk that particular tightrope.

It’s an interesting question – does Max need to keep doing what he’s doing, or is it time to reflect and change his style of driving?

Yes – “We’re seeing far too much aggression from him on track”

Fern Lock

You’d think in his fourth season, Max Verstappen’s attitude on track would have matured like a fine wine, but sadly this isn’t the case. We’re seeing more sour incidents than sweet victories. The error of his ways are not only costing Red Bull valuable points but could potentially cost him his career.

Remember in 2016 when the ‘Verstappen Rule’ was briefly introduced to prevent his dangerous last minute, defensive moves? Max is no stranger to controversies on track, but we quickly forget about the mistakes with the outstanding performances that eventually follow.

Take the wet race in Brazil that year, Max gave a masterclass in overtaking – meaning the previous incidents with Kimi Raikkonen in Hungary and Belgium that called for the ‘Verstappen Rule’ were soon forgotten. He was fearless that day leaving us on the edge of our seats with every overtake. That’s the Max we all want to see, showing us the right balance of daring moves and clean passes.

Image: Red Bull Content Pool

But for me, China was the final straw. It’s time for Max to grow up and calm down a little. Red Bull can’t afford to lose out like they did, in a race that could have been a 1-2 for the team.

We’re seeing far too much aggression from him on track and he doesn’t show any remorse. Maybe the penalties received haven’t been strict enough, or he just believes he’s invincible and the rules don’t apply to him? I’m keeping my fingers crossed for less Max VerCRASHen and more performances that scream future world champion.

No – “With every mistake, Verstappen is learning, growing, finding new limits.”

Dan Thompson

On the surface, this doesn’t seem like a great season for Max. Eighth in the championship with just 18 points and no podiums but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Compare his results to those of Valtteri Bottas. Two podiums, 40 points and third overall makes the Finn by far the superior driver on paper and yet it’s Bottas who is already having his place at the sharp end of the grid questioned.

Both Bottas and Verstappen have lost races this season after misjudging overtaking moves, the former for being overcautious, the latter for being over-ambitious. Both are mistakes but in the world of Grand Prix racing, which is the greater sin?

Image: Red Bull Content Pool

All F1 drivers perform on the limit, but what sets great drivers apart is that they seek out new limits. They find time and opportunities where others don’t and, yes, sometimes they get it wrong. But for every time they do, there are others that they get it spectacularly right. For every China 2018 there’s a Brazil 2016, for every messy shunt there’s a sublime, physics-bending overtake.

Look back on the early careers of Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel, even Ayrton Senna and you will see dozens of incidents like the ones we’re looking at here. Those drivers did change over time, but it wasn’t a case of calming down, rather they learned to channel that aggression into something that moved them from the ranks of the very good into the ranks of the exceptional. With every mistake, Verstappen is learning, growing, finding new limits.

Max’s ambition isn’t his greatest weakness, it’s his greatest weapon. When he’s done honing it, there will be nobody that can stop him.

What do you think? Is Max Verstappen too aggressive for modern-day Formula 1, or is he simply still finding his limits as a Grand Prix driver?

Let us know via Facebook and Twitter, and look out for more debate throughout the season! 

Craig Norman <![CDATA[Video – Daniel Ricciardo on race strategy, Baku and the art of overtaking]]> 2018-04-18T19:09:52Z 2018-04-18T19:09:52Z Fresh from his win in Shanghai, Red Bull’s latest race winner Daniel Ricciardo now has his sights set on a second consecutive victory in Azerbaijan, whose Baku City Circuit is now the fastest street track on the F1 series calendar.

Mobil 1 The Grid caught up with Aston Martin Red Bull Racing driver to find out how clever strategy and a series of stunning overtakes inspired both his win in China and his win at last year’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

Craig Norman <![CDATA[Formula E and Billy Monger join forces for charity at electric kart race in Paris]]> 2018-04-25T22:08:39Z 2018-04-18T18:58:01Z A host of current Formula E stars and Billy Monger will take part in a charity electric karting race organised by Jean-Eric Vergne to raise awareness and funds for disabled aspiring racing drivers.

The event will take place on April 25th at the RKC karting track outside of Paris, ahead of the all-electric race in the French capital.

It has support from the FIA Disability and Accessibility Commission and its president Nathalie McGloin.

Monger, who lost his legs at a Formula 4 race in 2017 and is now racing in BRDC Formula 3, will use a specially modified kart for the event. He will race against other FE drivers and will champion the event’s charity Spinal Track, which helps disabled drivers compete again in racing.

“I’d love to give back to the motorsport community and this is a great way to do this,” he said.

“It’ll be a great experience for me, as I plan the next stage of my career to instruct other racing drivers in single-seaters and saloon cars – once I have my ARDS instructors licence.”

Monger is a supporter of McGloin’s Spinal Track charity that aims to get disabled drivers into racing, and the funds raised from the event will be donated to the organisation.

“Less than 12 months after his crash, Billy returned to single-seater racing using a specially-adapted car and finished third on his first race back,” said Vergne.

“This outstanding news proved to us all that no one should ever give up on his or her dream – and that if we all stand and work together we can make a difference.

“We make the impossible possible and we can motivate others to follow the same path.

“Billy will come and race with us at RKC – my karting track on the outskirts of Paris – for the #BillyWhizz charity kart race on April 25.

“I’d also like to give special thanks to SODIKART, who has built 25 electric karts for this occasion.”

Formula E founder and CEO Alejandro Agag added: “It’s fantastic to see Billy will be joining us in Paris – I think he’ll give our drivers a hard time on track!

I’d also like to thank Jean-Eric Vergne for putting the race together and helping to raise funds as a collective group for such a great cause.”

The funds raised will be donated to the charity Spinal Track, which gives disabled drivers an avenue back into racing.

To donate and show your support – click here

Chris Fawcett <![CDATA[The Badgerometer: China 2018 Edition]]> 2018-04-16T21:36:32Z 2018-04-16T16:03:17Z The Chinese Grand Prix gave us a new winner for 2018 and a popular one at that. Chris Fawcett looks at the highlights from a dramatic round 3 of the 2018 Championship

Gasly – Not quite hero to zero

While the coming together of the two Toro Rossos on lap 31 was unfortunate, it certainly opened the race up to a whole new dimension. What looked like a straight fight between Sebastian Vettel and Valtteri Bottas was flipped on it’s head the moment last week’s man of the moment, Pierre Gasly committed the unthinkable and drove straight into his teammate Brendon Hartley.

It looked pretty cut and dry, Hartley left a gap which was unattainable, Gasly went in too hot, locked his wheel and couldn’t stop. Completely avoidable and perhaps with a little bit more experience, both sides could have done something to prevent it.

The truth lies in a miscommunication rather than hotheadedness though, as it was discovered after the race that Gasly was of the understanding that he would be allowed to pass his teammate at the hairpin. He said in the post-race press pen that “They [race engineers] told me on the radio ‘OK, Brendon is going to let you past at the end of the straight’. He saw the room left and went for it, it’s a pity then that Hartley believed the pass would take place after the corner as he’d already done earlier in the race.

It obviously wrecked the afternoon for both sides of the garage, with Hartley eventually retiring his car and Gasly picking up a 10-second time penalty. It could be the price paid for having two, young, inexperienced drivers, but lets hope it’s soon forgotten.

Marshall quality

Before I go any further, I want to put it out there that the Marshalls used within motorsport, particularly Formula One, do a stellar job, with most doing it for the love of the sport. Without them, the show simply couldn’t continue.

Thankfully I can write this partly in jest because it wasn’t a serious incident, but what kept the Marshalls so long from cleaning up the debris after the Toro Rosso coming together? Were they having a game of cards and got caught off guard? It took them nearly two laps to even get on the scene, and when they did, they simply swept the remains of Gasly’s front wing into the grass. Ever heard of a dustpan and brush?

Kimi already playing bridesmaid

I’ll make this perfectly clear, in my eyes Ferrari have already got a clear number one for this season after just three races, and it isn’t Kimi Raikkonen. For sure, that’s how it’s been since Sebastian Vettel jumped ship from Red Bull, there have been times when many of us have even questioned if Kimi still has “it”. Before the season started I doubted it. But since Melbourne, I have been convinced the car suits the flying Finn and he should be given a fair crack of the whip so to speak.

If you compare the start of this season to last year in terms of head-to-head between the two Ferrari drivers over each session, Kimi is beating Seb 9-6, last year at the same stage, Seb had outperformed Kimi 12-1, minus the missed sessions in China due to the weather.

Kimi was essentially sacrificed in China, not in a way to just suit Vettel though, his race was ruined by poor pit wall decision making, not once, but twice. After leaving him out on tyres which were so degraded that he couldn’t defend against or to slow down faster-approaching cars (the team’s primary reason for leaving him out), they then missed the chance to pit him onto a faster compound under the safety car, à la Red Bull.

My point is, despite previous seasons of one driver coming out on top over his teammate, you cannot successfully put all of your eggs in one basket at this early stage of the season. Talking hypothetically, what if Sebastian runs away with it for the next few races then suffers a season-altering injury just like Michael Schumacher did at Silverstone in 1999. They’d be left playing catch up to salvage anything from the remaining races. I don’t like team orders, but I understand that to maximise the return at the end of the year, there does come a time when you need to think logically. Midway through the season perhaps? This gives both drivers a fair opportunity to prove why they deserve to be at a team as illustrious as Ferrari.

What is the point in muting a former World Champion at this point? Especially one who’s appeared to turn back the clock, and looks as hungry as ever…that appetite might soon die a death if Ferrari doesn’t re-think things.

And thank God Vettel didn’t make the podium, he’s had his hair cut again.

Max is not making any friends

It’s fair to say that after three full seasons, you’re no longer a rookie, you’re not expected to make rookie mistakes and your on-track craft should no longer need “crafting”. I like Max Verstappen when he burst onto the scene against all odds, he proved to the world that age is just a number, he showed maturity well above what was expected and blew the competition away in some stand-out performances. In short, he is the future of the sport.

Yet, with all the good he does for Formula One in terms of spectacle and excitement, it ends in disaster as often as it does in success. The reason being; he hasn’t yet figured out the percentage game. Some drivers will yield, others will not, either way, Max is going for that gap, in the same way that Senna used to bully his way through the field.

In the last two races, he’s come up against this generation’s two marquee drivers, they got there by being ruthless and holding no prisoners. And in the last two races, he’s come off badly. It’s easy to criticise from an armchair, but it’s clear to see that in order to dispatch drivers like Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, who are in faster machinery, you need to box clever. Going for a gap every single time will end in disaster.

Max doesn’t need to change his approach, we want overtaking, we want drama. He just needs to bottle it up and unleash it at the right time.

Ricciardo and Colgate; a perfect match?

Let’s keep this one short and to the point, it was fantastic to see Daniel Ricciardo pick up the victory in China, perhaps he’s the most likeable driver to ever be in the sport? Reason being, that huge pearly, white smile of his.

Read more – Who was our Top Dog for China?

We’ve seen Jenson Button model hair products and banking facilities. Lewis Hamilton has the shoe-wear market sorted with his Puma endorsement, but no one ever thinks about toothpaste do they?

What better candidate to be the face of a toothpaste brand? Or better yet, put him on dentistry campaign posters – he literally never stops smiling. I for one hope it continues long into the season, because all jokes aside, a three-team battle for the title sounds a hell of a lot better than two, don’t you think?


Emma Thomson <![CDATA[The TOP DOG for China is…]]> 2018-04-16T08:17:13Z 2018-04-16T06:39:35Z After the head-scratcher of Bahrain, Badger has had no such trouble choosing this week’s prize Pekingese. Ably assisted by some brilliant strategy calls, not to mention super impressive, double stacking pit stops, our latest Top Dog victor delivered a fire cracking performance that was definitely more sweet than sour.

So which of our feisty mongrels wins the ultimate takeaway from China? Lick
the stamp and send the trophy to…


Image: Aston Martin Red Bull Racing Media

No fortune cookie in all of China could have predicted a win for Danny Ric. His victory was the very definition of a Shanghai surprise. He made it into the qualifying session by the skin of those ever-smiling teeth, thanks to a last-gasp power unit fix by his miracle-working mechanics. Daniel remained super cool on his sole timed lap to drag his cold tyres into the second session. That was enough to get him in the game, ultimately qualifying a creditable sixth.


But as Daniel has been saying all season, the Red Bull is heaps better in race trim. This was the race which proved that point. Things started pretty quietly and Ricciardo was barely mentioned in the first half of the race. It was team-mate Max Verstappen who was grabbing all the attention with his ‘take no prisoners’ overtakes on the likes of Hamilton and Raikkonen. (Shame Max got a little too feisty later on. More Boy Blunder than Wonder!).

Dan’s fortunes suddenly changed with a timely safety car on lap 30. And boy, did he take his Red Bull by both horns?! Max and Dan were perfectly positioned to dive into the pits – bravo to the whole team for their strategic and mechanical brilliance all weekend – for fresh tyres and a chance to go on the attack against the red and silver cars ahead. Ricciardo is a sublime overtaker and wasted no time in picking off his victims.

First up was Kimi with a relatively straightforward slipstream pass. Up to 5th, thanks very much. Two laps later, when Verstappen got tangled up with Hamilton, Ricciardo sneaked by his Dutch team-mate to gain another position. Don’t mind if I do!

The Australian had the fire in his belly now – and I moved a little closer to the edge of my seat. Could he really win this race from 6th on the grid? And be the first Australian to triumph in China? Of course, he could.

Next for the Daniel treatment was reigning champ, Lewis Hamilton. Granted, Lewis didn’t stand much of a chance with his ailing tyres (why, oh why, didn’t the team pit him under the safety car?) but Ricciardo’s pass was spectacular nonetheless. He threw his car down the inside from about a mile back, out braking the master of late out braking to move into a podium position. Nice one!


But why stop there? Dan sniffed a victory and soon dispatched Vettel before saving his very best manoeuvre for race leader Valtteri Bottas. Ricciardo catapulted down the inside of Turn 14, coming within a Honey Badger’s eyelash of hitting the Finn. Once I’d removed the hands from my eyes, I was delighted to see the battling Aussie was leading the race. The adrenaline was pumping now and he proceeded to bang in purple lap times, leaving his rivals wondering what the hell happened. What a man!

He looked visibly emotional on the podium and no wonder, after the highs and lows of the weekend. Dan is always a joy to watch on the podium and he duly drank from the shoey, grinning all the while. What’s more, he has managed to bag his second Top Dog accolade in only three races. Great job, Danny Ric. Loving your work!

Which of our plucky pooches can stop Dan from bagging a Top Dog hat-trick in Baku? Find out with Badger in a couple of weeks as we follow all the action in Azerbaijan.

Craig Norman <![CDATA[Chinese Grand Prix: Ricciardo races to glory after strategic gamble]]> 2018-04-15T22:07:59Z 2018-04-15T22:07:59Z Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo snatched victory in a thrilling Chinese Grand Prix while early race leader and pole-sitter Sebastian Vettel tangled with Max Verstappen and finished eighth.

It looked to be Ferrari vs Mercedes in a drag-out brawl but a gamble for fresh tyres behind the Safety Car meant Ricciardo executed a series of superb overtakes to come through to pass Valtteri Bottas for the victory.

Vettel led the race in the opening stages but was jumped by Bottas at the first round of pitstops. Neither driver pitted during the safety car.

Kimi Raikkonen’s strong pace over the weekend was resorted to being used as a strategic tool when the Finn, who had yet to stop, was used as a roadblock to hold up Bottas up and push him into the clutches of Vettel. However, the Mercedes driver wasn’t blocked for long, passing Raikkonen down the inside at Turn 3, before Vettel also shot past his teammate.

The race would then be flipped on its head thanks to a collision between Toro Rosso teammates Brendon Hartley and Pierre Gasly.

The Frenchman dive-bombed Hartley despite there being no gap and with Toro Rosso bodywork spewed all over the track, the Safety Car came out. It later transpired that Hartley had been ordered to move aside to allow his faster teammate through.

As Vettel and Bottas stayed out due to passing the pit entrance, Red Bull rolled the dice by bringing both Verstappen and teammate Ricciardo – who had been running fifth when the Safety Car was called – into the pits immediately, fitting the pair with soft tyres.

The double-pitstop allowed Hamilton to move back up to P3 and Raikkonen to take P5 from Ricciardo, but as all of the other leaders stayed out, the Red Bulls looked in good shape for the restart.

When the race resumed on lap 36, Bottas got a good start ahead of Vettel and Hamilton, however, the advantage was all Red Bull’s with their fresh tyres.

Verstappen tried to pass Hamilton around the outside but instead almost bumped wheels and went off the track. Ricciardo showed him how it is done, coming from absolutely nowhere to cleanly pass Hamilton.

The Aussie’s next target was Vettel. It took him a few laps to close and just a couple of corners to pass as he slipstreamed him down the back straight.

Verstappen also tried to overtake the Ferrari driver but hit him, pitching both into a spin, letting Hamilton and Raikkonen through.

“I don’t think I need to say anything here,” said a disgruntled Vettel. Verstappen was slapped with a 10-second, post-race time penalty for his efforts.

Back at the front Ricciardo raced up to race leader Bottas’ rear wing. The Finn made a mistake with small lock-up soon after Ricciardo was into second, and nose-to-tail with the Mercedes.

With 12 laps to go, Ricciardo made a brave pass on heading into Turn 6, forcing Bottas to yield the position. Red Bull’s risky pit call had paid off and, thanks to fresh rubber, the Australian didn’t look back to win by just under nine seconds.

Bottas was P2 while Raikkonen recovered from his sacrificial first stint to finish P3 ahead of Verstappen and Hamilton on-track. After the penalty for the Vettel collision, the Dutchman was demoted to P5. Nico Hulkenberg had a fairly inconspicuous race to come home P6.

Having damaged his tyres, Vettel’s pace deteriorated in the closing stages, losing P7 to Fernando Alonso on the penultimate lap. Carlos Sainz Jr and Kevin Magnussen completed the points finishers.

Craig Norman <![CDATA[Chinese Grand Prix: Vettel denies Raikkonen pole position glory]]> 2018-04-14T09:31:35Z 2018-04-14T09:04:55Z Sebastian Vettel clinched his fourth career pole in China after pipping Kimi Raikkonen by less than a tenth of a second at the Shanghai International Circuit.

Raikkonen was on provisional pole once again heading into the final flying laps of Q3, but Vettel went quickest of all in the third and final sector to bag the 52nd pole of his career.

It’s the first time Vettel has secured back-to-back pole positions in Ferrari red, and for the first time since Brazil 2013.

Mercedes were outpaced and outclassed by the Scuderia, but Valtteri Bottas got the better of Lewis Hamilton and the Silver Arrows duo will line up P3 and P4 respectively on Sunday’s grid.

Both Mercedes struggled to heat their tyres in the cold climate of China, leading to both drivers setting their final times on the soft Pirellis, and will start the race surrounded by drivers on the ultrasoft compound.

Hamilton aborted his final Q3 lap and was there for taking by Red Bull, but Max Verstappen failed to capitalise, falling short in P5 by an agonising 0.012s. Teammate Daniel Ricciardo overcame an engine replacement to line up P6 after drama with an engine replacement and at one point looked like missing the session entirely.

Nico Hulkenberg secured his sixth successive P7 spot, with Sergio Perez placing his car between the two Renaults in P8. Carlos Sainz and Romain Grosjean’s Haas completed the top ten.

There was no sign of Ricciardo as the pit lane light when green for the start of Q1. The Australian suffered a suspected turbo issue in FP3 and a new power unit change was delayed by Renault not being able to provide a fully built-up engine for the Red Bull team.

Then, in the nick of time, Ricciardo was ready to sneak one flying lap in after an excellent job from his pit crew. He managed to avoid the elimination zone just a tenth of a second.

Unable to progress were the usual suspects at Williams and Sauber. Marcus Ericsson’s afternoon went from bad to worse after the qualifying session, being handed a five-place grid penalty for failing to slow under yellow flags. Due to the Swede’s starting position of P20 and last, it was a hollow penalty.

Pierre Gasly’s Bahrain high was replaced with a Chinese hangover as he failed to escape Q1 before the time limit and with line up in P17, one place behind Sergei Sirotkin’s Williams, and a real reality check for Toro Rosso.

Both Mercedes and Ferrari started Q2 with soft tyres on both cars and Raikkonen managed to nip ahead of Vettel by 0.099 seconds after the first hot laps of the session.

With race tyres in mind, a split in strategy looked as if it was emerging as Ferrari came back for the final flying lap in Q2 with Raikkonen and Vettel swapping to the ultrasofts. Mercedes staying loyal to the softs with a longer first stint on the agenda for Sunday.

Hamilton suddenly shot up to P1, the first driver to drop in the 1:31 mark and Bottas also improved to P2, just a tenth behind.

Ferrari, though, played the bluff on the ultras, with neither Raikkonen and Vettel completing their final laps and heading back into the pits. They, like Mercedes, will start Sunday’s race on the soft tyres.

Haas driver Kevin Magnussen was eliminated in Q2 for the first time this season after a poor middle sector on his final lap prevented him from improving.

It was a double knock-out for McLaren with Alonso and Vandoorne finishing in P13 and P14 respectively. Both drivers gave each other a tow on the long back straight, but it wasn’t enough to haul them into Q2.

Toro Rosso driver Brendon Hartley was slowest in Q2 and ended up P15, just under 0.3s slower than Vandoorne.

Attention then turned to Q3, and it was Raikkonen who put himself on provisional pole with a rapid opening flying lap. Teammate Vettel could not match him and was 0.1s down in P2, while Bottas and Hamilton were 0.4s back in P3 and P4 respectively.

Bottas could not improve on his time, while Hamilton aborted his lap and headed straight back to the pits.

Raikkonen found improvement by 0.018 seconds but Vettel, for the second qualifying in succession, got the better of his teammate, pipping him by 0.084 seconds.

Craig Norman <![CDATA[Is it time to make pitstops even safer?]]> 2018-04-19T09:35:08Z 2018-04-13T19:58:55Z The spectacle of a Formula 1 pitstop is still a sight to behold. Witnessing four tyres being changed on a car in just a few seconds is a feat or organisation and teamwork, but what does it actually bring to the show as a whole? It’s needed so one team can gain those precious tenths of a second over their rivals in terms of race strategy, but if you don’t see the pitstop you still see the benefit – or loss, as Haas and Ferrari have shown in recent races – but with 20+ people crowded around a car for that brief moment, you don’t see the intricacies until the replays.

In Australia, both Haas cars retired as a result of botched stops, with wheels not being attached properly despite the frantic waving of the teams allocated that role. Kimi Raikkonen’s Bahrain retirement was the result of being sent away from his crucial stop during the latter part of the race, a decision that should not have been made while the rear left was still being worked on. It cost the team a possible podium position, $50,000 and Francesco Cigorini a night in a hospital bed.

Warning – the following video contains distressing scenes.

With all the advancements in technology when it comes to safety, it’s easy to forget that we need to protect everyone involved in motorsport, not just those entrusted with driving the cars very, very fast. They need to be as brave as possible, but what about the people who have to face that car entering the pits for a stop that could cost them everything in a race? If the FIA are conscious enough to add more protection to drivers in the shape of the Halo, will the need to protect pit crews from their own cars be next on the agenda?

Raikkonen and Ferrari were not the only ones to suffer a pit incident in motorsport that weekend. At IndyCar’s first race in Phoenix on the Saturday night, leader Sebastian Bourdais misjudged his entry and caught one of his crew entering his box. It was minor compared to Cignorini’s injuries, mainly due to Bourdais entry speed, but due to team member restrictions involved in a stop only one person was caught up in it all.

IndyCar is one of motorsport’s top disciplines, especially in the US, and the crew number allowed to make contact with the car during a pitstop is restricted to six. This is the same number as F1 feeder series Formula 2, where the pit stop is implemented in the feature as mandatory to help improve strategy and, therefore, increase the excitement of a slower car being caught by a faster one. Both IndyCar and F2 have honed these smaller teams to a fine art, resulting in the same emphasis on speed but with improved safety levels.

The flip side of having a smaller crew around the car come a pit stop would be the emergence of personalities within a team. Imagine these names becoming synonymous as the likes of Raikkonen, Vettel or Hamilton when it comes to race strategy. Imagine the bidding wars that would occur for pit crews as they solidify reputations, bringing themselves alongside the like of technical directors, team principles and heads of aerodynamics. More characters would become prominent in F1 which, like the on-track entertainment recently, has been in limited supply.

Haas already have an idea like this in having names on their firesuits, which after Australia had the detrimental effect of pinning the blame on one or two poor souls.

Instead of nameless, faceless heroes, why not get to know the team in detail? | Image: Octane Photography

Pit stops have evolved from shorts and polo shirts to high tech race suits over the last few decades. This mentality now needs to extend from what’s worn to the number of personnel around the car at these critical moments – they can make or break a race and a season in a heartbeat, and with that pressure comes the risk of mistakes, injuries or worse.